Keep talking about the NEO crisis: Clevelanders must get connected

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Sun, 11/28/2004 - 19:48.

I find it absurd when people criticize the Plain Dealer for their "Quiet Crisis" series and challenge area residents to look on the sunny side of life. While REALNEO certainly features plenty of progressive developments and people in the region to celebrate, it is essential we all redouble efforts to correct our failings and support solutions, rather than hibernate in denial - things won't be any better in the Spring.

For one roadmap to a better future, in the 11/28/04 Plain Dealer Forum Section the insightful Joe Frolik offers a blueprint for significant improvement for NEO, taken from lessons learned in our regional diamond Chicago, which not inconsequentially was able to lure away one of our leaders of our sustainability movement because our community leaders were not as supportive and promising as those of the Windy City. For another roadmap, look to Boston, and just down the road to NEO's most progressive suburb, Shaker Heights.

In another new economy domain, the OneCleveland initiative has been nationally recognized at the top of the community bandwidth spectrum but, for lack of concerted comprehension of the connection between connectivity and economic development, we are lagging Philadelphia in visioning on becoming the wired city of the future. Worse, the City of Cleveland has failed to leverage information technology as a foundation for economic development and we're now recognized as the worst of 70 large city virtual communities in the Country. Worse, those who allowed us to become the worst are slamming the barn door and pledging away $30,000,000+ to out-of-state contractors to put us right.

As a more sane strategy, I suggest leaders for the future of Cleveland speak up about this crisis and take ownership to find solutions. I started speaking up on this issues in 2001, writing a "Quiet Crisis" op/ed on our failing virtual community and the digital divide, and I am working with a group of Case and Cleveland State leaders to solve those problems in East Cleveland, where city government is receptive to outside support. I reprint below my op/ed from 2001, which remains true today, and I encourage others to post their thoughts on these issues as comments here, or email me on these matters at norm [at] icearth [dot] com.


must get connected
Plain Dealer - Quiet Crisis Series - 11/05/01 - Norm Roulet

Joe Frolik's
Oct. 21 column, "The high-tech route to City Hall," finally starts
focusing attention on the Cleveland area's only hope for economic and social
renewal: information technology.

studies prove Cleveland is deficient in its use of information technology in
government and in supporting the needs and interests of citizens. As a result,
the community and the local economy have suffered.

must move to the forefront of the information technology revolution by doing
two things quickly and effectively:

universal access for our people.

Develop an
optimal virtual community.

citizen in the Cleveland area should have regular, convenient access to a
computer, e-mail and the Internet - ideally at home. For us to accept that any
of our citizens are disconnected is to accept that they are stranded across a
divide and not part of a hopeful new economy.

access can be achieved. A very high percentage of area homes are online, and
many more households may be willing to pay for a computer and access, if both
are made affordable and convenient. Households that cannot afford computers and
access must be subsidized and sponsored so that no citizen is allowed to fall
off-line. Local, state and federal governments and local and global businesses
should be thrilled to help get Greater Clevelander connected - and create a
model for the new world in the process.

Clevelanders act in concert - like a large corporation - we may negotiate
better deals for computers, access, applications and technical support than
possible acting as individual customers. If we notify Dell, HP and Gateway that
Clevelanders need 100,000 cheap, preconfigured computers at the lowest possible
price, they will deliver and be very pleased to help support the world's first
significant, universally connected city. Universal access can happen using
existing phone lines. People don't need fiber-optics or cable to benefit from
the Internet.

To optimize
our virtual community, Cleveland must learn from the accomplishments of great
cities like Seattle, Austin, Chicago, Boston and New York. Visit the northwest,
at, and imagine the
possibilities for us.

Millions of
people worldwide and around Cleveland already are developing cheap, effective
application service provider capabilities (which allow users to do whatever
they want to do on the Internet and which underpin a useful virtual community).
These great, open solutions just need to be configured for Clevelanders'

Cleveland must
re-engineer business and governance processes so they are Internet-optimized
(by that I mean perfectly suited to users' needs). For example, if Clevelanders
wanted them, they could have ASP capabilities for voting, paying parking
tickets, searching and registering for adult learning services, complaining
about code violations or drug activity, finding gas lines before digging,
checking on a fifth grader's school assignments and grades.

Cleveland offers Clevelanders the online resources and services Seattle offers
its citizens and business community, Cleveland will become a much more livable

Cleveland-area virtual community should be a place for all citizens to learn.
Our children should find access to free, online learning resources - the best
the world has to offer - organized by age and skill level. They should find a
place to communicate with their teachers and learning peers, extending healthy
learning relationships and environments to their homes.

should turn online to help their children learn, supporting their healthy
virtual and physical learning environments, and to access adult learning
resources. A city with computer-literate, computer-educated, computer-trained citizens
will create, attract and retain more high-tech enterprise and jobs.

It's up to
us. Cleveland can develop a world-class virtual community and a new economy. We
have to do things right and stick with our goals. There are no quick fixes to
our problems. We need to get better at the things that matter, like sharing,
learning, collaborating and information technology.

Current U.S.
and global economic developments won't spark and fuel our local economy. Quite
the opposite. Cleveland must resolve this economic and social crisis alone. I
hope our next mayor will be the right person, at the right place, at this right
time, to help lead us on a better course for the future. But each leader
throughout the community must now lead better, and each Clevelander must
personally leverage all the best tools, insights and opportunities made
available to succeed.

Roulet is a
Cleveland-area virtual community developer.

C 2001 The
Plain Dealer.